Even though I’ve worked in the publishing industry for over five years now, there were still a few things that took me by surprise when my book was picked up. In the interest of helping out other aspiring writers, here’s five things I learned when I went from working with books to writing them;
1. You have to provide your own author photo.
My contract is a pretty standard one, and it details that providing an author photo is my responsibility and is to be done at my expense. I don’t know if there are any authors to whom this stipulation doesn’t apply.
Being a cheap cuss, I solved that issue by getting my photo taken by my fiance in our living room. We had to do this across two nights because the first evening was spent working out the best way of taking the photo. It seems like an easy thing to do until you’re faced with the prospect of it being disseminated across the Internet and printed in the paper.
We used two different cameras, both of which we had a lot of trouble getting focused correctly. When the image wasn’t blurry, I would generally have a weird expression on my face. When I didn’t have a weird expression on my face, the light wasn’t right (or it was reflecting in my glasses). I’m not that comfortable about getting my photo taken in the first place, so the entire process was a special kind of torture, and that showed in my face for most of the pictures.
Natural light ran out before we got the photo on the first night, so we gave up and tried again the next evening. Thankfully, we eventually got a photo that was decent. It was a little blurry but I didn’t mind that as it gave the whole thing a vaseline lens feel. Of course, that was a rookie move on my part, as this image needed to accompany print interviews and it’s not a great look for your photo to be out of focus.
When that became an issue, I had to quickly get another photo taken with help from a friend at work. The second time was almost as difficult as the first! One of these days I’ll have to get a professional shot taken, but in the meantime you can learn from my mistakes and get one done by a photographer in advance, because you never know when you’ll be asked for it!
2. You’ll need to practice your signature (as well as have some witty things to inscribe!).
My penmanship is terrible, so it was strange to think that people may want me to write something in their books. Also, my signature is little more than a few slanted pen strokes, which worried me that people would feel cheated if all I gave them was an illegible scribble in their book, so I sat down and practiced a clearer signature.
Not only did I come up with a legible John Hancock, I also worked out a few phrases to offer people. But one thing I didn’t count on was inscribing books for people I knew! Many friends and family at the Vanguard Prime: Goldrush launch were left with bizarre things written in their books as I desperately tried to figure out something witty to scrawl out. Trust me, it’s hard to do when you’re trying to maintain a conversation at the same time! Do your best to work it out in advance!
But I think the most important thing in all this is to practice your pen(person)ship. You may feel like it’s redundant given how much work is done on computers these days, but there may come a day when you need to write things down in longhand. You don’t want people thinking a kindergartener has gotten hold of the Mont Blanc!
3. You’ll need to get good at talking to people and crowds, and you’ll need to do it fast.
You may have grown up wanting to be a writer after finding it difficult to connect with people. You may have done it as a way to escape the hardship you faced in the everyday world, to assuage the anxiety that socializing caused you. I know that’s what I did.
But the fact is, there’s no greater advocate for your book than you. And if you want it to be a success, and if you want to get the chance to write more books, you’re going to have to go out there and talk to people. And you’re going to have to be good at it.
If this is a weak spot for you, your publisher may provide media training for you. With budgets being what they are these days, however, the chances of that aren’t great. I’ve never been what you’d call a social butterfly, but one way I found of overcoming my stage fright was through drama classes.
I took drama in high school and the lessons I learned there have carried through to this day. Whenever I’m in a situation where I have to speak in front of a large crowd and I’m feeling nervous about it, I do two things. The first thing I try to do is harness that nervous energy. Use it as a fuel to overcome your obstacle.
The second is to imagine that this isn’t you. That this is a performance you’re putting on, a character you’re enacting, and that even if you “fail”, it’s not really you who’s failing. It may sound slightly mad, but it works.
I thought I’d have to prove my abilities to speak in front of crowds to my publisher. And that’s kind of what happens, but only by having your publisher throw you in the deep end and seeing if you swim. And you owe it to yourself to swim.
So whenever you’re asked if you want to appear somewhere or participate in some event, no matter what it is and no matter how nervous you may be about it, you have to say ‘yes’.
(And as a final note on this topic; make sure to work out a way to encapsulate your book that sounds interesting, and that can be expanded upon if necessary. You need to convince whoever’s listening that your book is worth picking up, especially when they’ve never heard of it before. I’m still working on this one!).
4. Even when you’ve “made it”, you still haven’t made it.
When I was toiling away on my manuscript, I imagined what it would be like to see my book on store shelves and the feeling of perfect contentment that would wash over me as a result. That was the dream that kept me going. It’s no doubt the dream that keeps a lot of people going.
But here’s the thing; even when you achieve that, you still haven’t “made it”. You may have achieved the status of “author”, but now you need to retain the status of author. The goal posts never stop shifting. The first goal is to get published. The next goal is to keep getting published. You need to make sure you’re in this for the long haul, because if you aren’t it’s easy to become one of those many anonymous authors whose books line the walls of second-hand shops, never to be heard from again.
5. What a dinkus is.
You know that little emblem that will sometimes be used in books to break up the text? In the Vanguard Prime series, it’s the team’s insignia. That’s a dinkus. The publishing team works together with the author to work out what that little symbol will be. It’s also my new favourite word. Dinkus, dinkus, dinkus.